Flat Bread Pizza In a Flash

Flat bread pizza is a family favorite for us. In fact, when my husband and I feel like a “happy hour” experience on a Friday night but don’t have a babysitter, we head out to a local chain restaurant with the kids and order two or three flat bread pizzas on the cheap and have a Friday night feast (with a little “happy” glass of wine for each of us on the side!).

There is something so appealing and simple about flat bread pizza. Of course, it’s all about the crust. Thin and crispy and so easy to eat for the kids. Topped with simple ingredients such as olive oil, garlic, thinly-sliced tomato and basil, this treat can be eaten for lunch, as a snack or for dinner.

The trick for me was how I would go about making the crust. Until I ran into packaged flat breads at the store! These gems come in all varieties and when I saw them I opted for the whole grain, low-fat, low-calorie kind. They are only 90 calories per flat bread and they’re pretty darn big!

So today, I couldn’t resist making a pizza for lunch. I’m trying to cut some calories, so instead of starting off with basting the whole flat bread with olive oil I opted for spraying both sides with Pam spray to get the crisp I wanted. Here’s what else I did:

-Heat the oven to 450 degrees
-Gather ingredients:
-One Roma tomato, very thinly sliced
-Six leaves of basil from the garden, chopped
-One clove of garlic minced
-A handful of mozzarella cheese
-A sprinkle of shredded fresh Parmesan cheese
-A sprinkle of crushed red pepper
-Salt and pepper to taste

After spraying both sides of the flat bread with Pam spray, I spread the minced garlic evenly over the entire surface of one side of the bread. Next, I sprinkled on the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses in addition to the basil.

Then I placed the thinly-sliced tomatoes around the pizza, sprinkled with salt and pepper and placed it onto a sheet pan in the oven for no more than 10 minutes. Make sure to check often because it bakes so fast and could burn! After removing from the oven I sprinkled some crushed red pepper on top, cut into four slices and indulged in a small piece of heaven! And overall, this lunch was probably no more than 200 calories! That’s what I’m talking about! And now I think we might have Friday night “Happy Hour” at home this week!

Mini Tostada Night: Bring the Family to the Table!


I’ve written before about my undying love for tostadas! The combination of crunchy from the tostada shell with the creaminess of refried beans or spiciness of beef or chicken–all mixed with the coolness of lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream! It’s more than food, it’s an experience! And why not involve the whole family in making this classic Mexican dish by gathering them around the table for a weeknight or weekend family dinner experience?
I’ve seen television food shows featuring little stands in Mexico that rock classic tostadas made from ingredients that span decades of Mexican family recipes. Some are topped with civeche, a lime-cured fish, or other exotic ingredients like cactus or squid. When it comes to the kids and family night, I like to keep things a little more simple.
Our family tostada night several weekends ago consisted of store-bought mini tostada shells, which are already fried, and a plethora of mini bowls spread around the table filled with toppings including cubed grilled chicken, steaming hot canned refried-style beans, shredded cheddar cheese, diced tomato, shredded lettuce, sour cream and salsa. Now that the kids are almost 4 and 7 and can use spoons to scoop up food and place it carefully onto their plates (or in this case tostadas), it was easy to call everyone to the table and create our own tostada masterpieces–and our own family experience! My suggested ingredient list for this crunchy, cool dinnertime experience includes:
-One package of pre-fried tostada shells (I prefer the authentic Mexican brands if you can find them)
-Four seasoned, grilled chicken breasts cut into half-inch cubes
-One small can of refried beans (I like the nonfat-type seasoned with lime since you can’t tell the difference between this type and the type with tons of fat!)
-Half a head of romain lettuce, shredded
-Three tomatoes, diced
-One package of shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
-Sour cream
-Green or red salsa
Lay out all of the ingredients in a family-style setting at your dinner table and dig in! The kids like to feel like they’re making their own dinner and have so much fun in the process. Watch out, it can get messy! But that’s okay! Throw in a “how did your day go today?” and you’ve got a traditional sit-down dinner that brings your family that much closer.

It’s Fish Taco Night!

Have you ever thought about the things you could do with an ordinary fish stick or even fancier frozen fish like beer-battered halibut? What about making fish tacos out of them? Why not! Fish sticks aren’t just for kids anymore.

Now days, people are pretty familiar with fish tacos since many chain fast-food restaurants include them on their menus. They usually consist of battered fish inside a flour or corn tortilla, shredded cabbage and a creamy dressing with salsa on the side. How much easier does it get?

Here’s what we did last night for our fish taco extravaganza with the following ingredients:

-One package of good frozen, battered halibut filets (you could use frozen grilled fish too)
-One package of flour tortillas (taco size)
-One head of regular cabbage
-1/4 cup of lite mayo
-1/4 cup of lite sour cream
-One lime
-Siracha hot sauce
-Any type of salsa (green or red) that you like

First, I pulled some frozen battered halibut filets out of the freezer and started baking them according to the directions while the kids jumped up and down on the couch, begged for snacks and asked if I wanted to watch magic tricks. Once I told them to stop jumping, gently denied the snacks and watched two magic tricks (performed by no other than my six-year-old son who is infatuated with magic and on the prowl for unsuspecting spectators), I started to cut up the cabbage so that it is thinly shredded–enough for five or six tacos.

Next is the sauce. I thought I’d get a little creative and copy the technique of one of my favorite sushi restaurants by adding siracha hot sauce to a combination of lite mayo and lite sour cream. Just a squirt will do but if you like it hot go for it! Add a little lime juice and some salt and pepper and you’re ready to go. You could forgo the hot sauce and add a little lemon pepper or just plain lime juice and season with salt and pepper or even paprika.

Then all you have to do is assemble the tacos by placing the crispy, hot fish on one side of a tortilla, topping with the shredded cabbage and sauce and pouring on some salsa. Don’t forget to squirt on a little lime–that’s a tradition here in Southern California. Then fold them up and enjoy! Meal done.

My Go-To Meal: Lite Kielbasa Stir Fry Pasta

Packaged kielbasa is good for so many reasons and occasions. My father just cuts it up cold and eats it with some crackers and slices of cheese. For a long time I thought you had to cook it before you ate it but certain brands are fully cooked. The thing that’s great about the packaged kind, is that one whole kielbasa will feed all four of us (don’t think it’ll stay that way for long, though as the kids get older and chow down a lot more food!). So that means about $5 for a one-pot meal for four, more or less, and a couple bucks for spaghetti and some veggies to throw in.

Anyway, I like the lite kielbasa and have just recently discovered that the lite turkey kielbasa is really good too and has way less fat and calories. The spices in this type of Polish sausage are what I like the most. It must be the Polish in me. My father was adopted and raised by Polish immigrant parents in a small town in Nebraska and the most wonderful food aromas would waft out of his extended families’ kitchens. I can remember the smell of pickled vegetables, especially cucumbers, that they would keep down in the cool basement. The smell saturated the house and had a sort of calming effect on me as a child. The smell and sense of home. Anyway, this sausage has lots of garlic and spices that attract even children to dig in (think dressed up hot dog!).

If I need a less-expensive and time-consuming option during the week, I grab a package of lite kielbasa on my weekend shopping trip and make this quick stir fry spaghetti dish.

Here are the ingredients:

-One package of lite kielbasa, cut into thin bite-sized pieces
-1/2 to 3/4 pound of spaghetti
-One stalk of celery, cut into bite sized pieces
-Half a head of broccoli cut into small florets
-One carrot, grated
-Soy sauce
-One tablespoon of vegetable of olive oil

Start by bringing a pot of salted water to boil for the spaghetti. If you have a stacked steamer, add the broccoli to the top of the top so that it steams a bit before adding it to the stir fry. Or boil the broccoli for a few minutes before adding the pasta and set the veggies aside in a bowl. In a big frying pan, heat the oil on medium-high heat and add the cut up kielbasa. Stir around until the sausage starts to brown a bit.

Next, add the spaghetti to the boiling water and stir. Then add all of the veggies to the frying pan with the kielbasa. Keep stirring to soften the veggies until al dente (still have some crispness left) and add salt and pepper to your liking. At the very end, add about two tablespoons of soy sauce to the pan and reduce the heat. Drain your spaghetti and add the pasta directly to the frying pan. Turn the heat up a bit and mix together all the ingredients until the pasta has absorbed some of the liquid.

I usually cut up the spaghetti a bit for the little ones. They love slurping the pasta up and as long as I call broccoli “trees” they eat that too! So there you have it. A pasta dish with meat, veggies and pasta all in one quick dish for about $5.

Flap Meat Carne Asada Burritos With Mango Salsa and Guacamole

I’ve been sitting on this recipe for a while–waiting for summer to come around when mangos are in season! There is a type of magic that happens when you combine beef with mango that I really can’t explain. In the case of these flap meat burritos, the sweet and tartness of the mango and lime salsa cuts the richness of the salty, seasoned beef perfectly. Add a little guacamole to the whole thing, wrap it in a tortilla with some caramelized onions and it’s pure heaven.

In fact, we had this meal last night since my husband’s nephew was in town with two of his 20-something-year-old friends. It’s a good BBQ meal to make and a nice way to unwind in the backyard after a work day during the summer while playing with the kids. And the kids really like the bits of cut up steak and LOVE the mango–a great way to incorporate some fruit into their diet. Instead of wrapping the kids’ meat into a burritos, I cut triangle wedges out of the tortillas and butter them and then serve the meat, salsa and guacamole on the side.

Here’s what you’ll need for a meal for four people:

– A pound and a half (or more, if you like) of flap meat beef
– Chef Merito carne asada seasoning (Check to see if your local grocery store carries it. I love the tang, and I prefer it because it doesn’t have the strong cumin taste that some of these types of seasonings do.)
– One red onion, cut in half and sliced. Chop about a tablespoon and reserve for the salsa.
– A handful of chopped, fresh cilantro. Save a tablespoon for the salsa.
– Two tablespoons of vegetable oil
– Two mangos
– One serrano pepper, seeded and cut into tiny bits
– Two avocados
– One lime
– Tabasco sauce
– A bag of flour tortillas

The night before your BBQ, lay all the pieces of flap meat out flat and fully season both sides of the meat with the carne asada seasoning and with black pepper. Make sure you don’t coat too heavily, but try not to be skimpy either. Then put the meat into a zip bag with the sliced onion and cilantro and add the two tablespoons of oil. Zip the bag and massage the meat with the other ingredients until it’s well mixed. Put the bag onto a plate or dish and refrigerate over night.

The next day, start to prepare your salsa and guacamole before putting the meat on the grill. Stand the mango upright and slice it from the top downward on both sides. Next, cut lines down and across each slice of the mango and then bend the peel backward and cut the chunks loose into a bowl. Cut any other eatable chunks off of the pit and use for the salsa. Then add the chopped red onion, cilantro, serrano pepper and squeeze the juice of half of the lime into the mixture. Salt and pepper to taste.

To make the guacamole, cut each avocado in half by running a knife around the circumference of the avocados. Once you have two halves, stick the blade of your knife into the pit and twist. The pit should come right out. Take a big spoon and scoop out the inside meat and put it into a bowl. Mash the avocado with a fork, making it as chunky or creamy as you like. Add the juice from the other half of lime and some Tabasco sauce, salt and pepper to taste.

Place the flap meat on a high-heat grill and add the onions from the marinade to a metal, grill-safe bowl in order to caramelize the onions on top of the grill. Grill the meat until it is well done (no longer springs back to the touch) or you can grill more rare, if you prefer. Keep mixing the onions to cook them.

When the meat is done, allow it to cool a bit. Remove caramelized onions from the grill and set aside. Now, the trick to getting tender, bite-sized pieces of meat is cutting against the grain. Gently pull on each piece of the meat and you will see a natural grain appear. You want to cut the meat in thin strips going the opposite way of this grain. Once you have strips, cut these slices into bite-sized pieces.

Now all you have to do to make your burrito is place some meat in the middle of the tortilla, top with caramelized onions, salsa and guacamole, roll it all up and take a scrumptious bite. I can’t even tell you how good this is. It’s definitely one of my favorites. Enjoy!

Fancy Tomato Pie

So after working many weeks straight and trying to keep up the pace with our wonderfully, adorable and very active 5- and 2-year-olds, my husband and I were able to steal away to a local Southern California winery resort a couple of months ago for a weekend without the kids! I was so excited that I started reading the menu of the restaurant at the resort online to gear up my taste buds for some decadent food (and wine, of course!). Reading through the appetizer list, I came across a dish that sounded like I had to have it that very minute! It was a very french-inspired recipe called an “Heirloom Tomato Tart.” Just another name for baked tomato pie with caramelized onions and gouda cheese with a flaky crust. Sounded really fancy to me but also really very simple.

So I started testing a recipe of my own, using some of the basic ingredients outlined in the description of the appetizer. I bought a regular-sized pie crust, some sweet roma tomatoes instead of the expensive heirloom ones, a brown onion and some gouda cheese. I also had some Grey Poupon in the fridge, which the appetizer description outlined, so that I could brush the bottom of the crust for some extra pizazz, and some basil and extra tomatoes to top it.

I also realize now that since summer is here, it is tomato season and this recipe makes great use of all the tomato-abundance! Our garden is in full bloom and we have wonderful heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and beefsteak tomatoes. Any of these could be used with this recipe and would be delicious. In fact, this is a good way to use tomatoes in bulk if you have a lot of them and don’t want them to go to waste. The pie also stores nicely in the refrigerator for a couple of days afterward and even tastes great cold.

Here are the ingredients:
-One ready-made, regular-sized Pillsbury pie crust
-One tablespoon of Grey Poupon mustard
-Two big, red heirloom tomatoes or four ripe roma tomatoes sliced in thin slices
-One brown onion, chopped
-Two tablespoons of butter
-1/4 cup of grated gouda cheese
-Six to eight leaves of basil cut in thin strips for topping
-One tomato of any kind chopped for topping

Here’s how I made that yummy, fancy tart (I mean tomato pie):

First, brush the mustard onto the bottom and sides of the frozen pie crust. Next, in a medium skillet, melt the butter on medium heat and add the chopped onions. Reduce the heat and cook the onion until it’s soft and a rich caramel color. Then, cool the onions a bit to room temperature and then add to the bottom of the pie crust. Next, layer the sliced tomatoes starting around the outside edges and working toward the middle. Top the whole pie with the shredded gouda cheese. Bake at the temperature recommended for the pie crust for about 25 minutes or until the edges are light brown on the crust and the middle is cooked and bubbling.

Take the pie out of the oven and set aside to cool. When ready to serve, top with the chopped tomato and basil and slice into pie-shaped wedges. I recommend the Paula Deen way to slice, which would be clipping the foil with a scissors on each side of the slice you want to make about three inches long and pulling the foil down from the pie slice before using a pie spatula to lift your slice. That way, the crust won’t break and toppings won’t fall off. Serve to everyone in the family as a treat, light lunch or on a Friday evening to “just the parents” with a nice glass of your favorite wine. This even makes a great party appetizer. Happy summer.

Quick-Fix Stovetop Mini Meatloaves

About a month ago I found myself in a quandary. I had some hamburger thawed in the refrigerator on a weeknight and I started having that craving for meatloaf but knew I wouldn’t have time after work to pick up the kids, prepare the ingredients, and wait for the meatloaf to bake in the oven for an hour before the kids started getting restless and tired. So I tried a new stovetop technique and made “mini” meatloaves in 15 minutes! Not a thing is lost on these little wonders. The taste, texture (and sliceability the next day!) are all great. Plus, I can sneak in a little bit of carrot along with the aromatics so the kids have even more servings of veggies. I’m also able to make a down-home, filling meal for my husband to enjoy at the end of his long day. I like to serve this with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli.

Here’s how I do it:

-1 pound of low fat hamburger or ground turkey
-1 egg
-About 10 saltine or club crackers crushed finely inside a plastic bag
-8 ounces of stewed tomatoes crushed by hand
-1 tablespoon ketchup
-1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
-1 stalk of celery finely diced
-1 small onion finely diced
-1 small carrot finely diced
-1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
-1/4 teaspoon of dried basil
-1/4 teaspoon of dried thyme
-Extra ketchup to spoon on top of loaves

For the garlic mashed potatoes:
-4 russet potatoes, diced
-1/4 cup of lite sour cream
-A couple of splashes of nonfat milk–enough to moisten to the desired consistency
-1/2 tablespoon of garlic powder
-Salt and pepper to taste

As a side: 1 big bunch of broccoli to steam on top of the potatoes as they’re boiling.

Bring a large sauce pot of salted water to a boil. Peel and dice four russet potatoes and cut and de-stem broccoli.

Dice the vegetables for the meatloaf and saute them in the olive oil in a large frying pan until soft. Season the veggies with salt and pepper. Place the softened vegetables into a bowl and set aside to cool. In a large mixing bowl, add the hamburger and all the other ingredients, except the olive oil and extra ketchup. Mix by hand and add about a half tablespoon of salt and 1/4 tablespoon of pepper to the mixture. Add the cooled veggies to the hamburger and mix by hand until incorporated.

Place cut up potatoes into boiling water and stir. Place a steamer pot on top, put broccoli in it and place a lid on top. Boil for about 10 minutes on medium-low heat or until broccoli and potatoes are tender. Turn down the heat a bit if you have to in order to avoid the water overspilling.

Next, form the hamburger into a patted-down ball and score evenly with the side of your hand lengthwise down the middle and up and down so that the mixture looks divided into four equal parts. Take each quarter and form into the shape of four mini loaves.

Then, heat the frying pan again to medium high heat. Once the pan is hot, place each loaf in the pan and sear on one side until browned. Then turn each one, spoon some ketchup over the tops and sear on the other side until browned. Once there is nice color on both sides, lower the heat and pour about two tablespoons of water into the pan. Place a lid on the pan and cook the meatloaf on medium-low heat for 12 to 15 minutes until cooked through. The steam is the magic that makes these loaves moist and tender on the inside! Add more water, if needed, to continue the steaming action.

While the loaves cool, set the broccoli aside, drain the potatoes, and place them back into the saucepan. Add the sour cream, nonfat milk, garlic powder and enough salt and pepper to taste. Mix by hand with a slotted potato smasher until smooth.

That’s it! I usually slice the meatloaf into bite-sized pieces for the kids

Super easy and really yummy (but not better than those leftover sandwiches!)


Bruschetta Chicken: Hello My Love!

My love for bruschetta runs deep. Especially if it’s done the right way. I remember in the late ’90s or early 2000s when high-end restaurants started serving bruschetta on crustini as an appetizer and saturated the tomato and basil mixture with garlic. I wouldn’t want to step foot in a dance club or bar after that for fear my dragon breath would blow everyone away.

Now days, I’ll get a jones for the bruschetta served at a small organic produce store nearby–but it’s only prepared on some days as part of their salad bar buffet. It’s a crap shoot. And it’s one I’m willing to risk. And believe me, you know that it’s being served that day before you even enter foot into the old farmer-style establishment because the aroma is tantalizing. Savory, I think is the word for it. Sweet with garlic and a little tart because of the vinegar. Absolutely divine. Their mixture is served on sliced french bread, toasted in the oven with olive oil.

Done with some proper balance, I think the tomato, basil, garlic, olive oil and (in my case, balsamic vinegar) mixture that goes on top of some type of toasted or soft bread or crunchy crustini is the type of food that almost everyone can sink his or her teeth into and enjoy. And when you top chicken with it, it’s not just an appetizer anymore. It’s a meal.

Here’s what I’ve come up with. I love it. My husband loves it. And remarkably my kids eat it!

Ingredients (to serve four people):

-1 pound of thin sliced chicken breasts or three chicken breast steaks pounded out thin inside of a zipper bag
-Three tomatoes, diced
-Five or six leaves of fresh basil, rolled together and cut into thin strips (or you could use a half tablespoon of dried basil)
-Two cloves of garlic, crushed and minced
-Two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (and a little extra to brush the checkin with)
-One tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
-Shredded parmesan cheese
-Garlic powder
-Salt and pepper
-1 pound of spaghetti
-Two green zucchinis, diced (if desired)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Start boiling salted water for the spaghetti.

Line a baking sheet with foil (for easy cleanup!). Brush the chicken breasts on both sides with olive oil or spray with cooking spray. Season with a little garlic powder, salt and pepper. Lay the chicken evenly on the baking sheet and place on the top rack of the oven. Bake on the first side about eight minutes or until golden.

Add spaghetti to the boiling water. If desired, add a stacker-steamer pot to the top of the pot and steam some cut-up zucchini while the pasta is cooking.

In the meantime, heat the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet on medium heat. When hot, toss in the tomatoes and garlic. Saute until the veggies are soft. Add the basil and balsamic vinegar and saute for a small amount of time. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove mixture from the heat.

Flip chicken breasts and cook another eight minutes or until golden. Next, transfer the chicken breasts to a foil-lined baking dish so the chicken lines up but doesn’t overlap. Top the chicken with the tomato mixture, top with parmesan cheese, turn your oven on broil and broil until the top is melted and bubbly.

Toss the spaghetti with a small amount of olive oil and salt. Plate pasta on each person’s plate and place one or two chicken breasts with bruschetta mixture on top. Enjoy!


My Mother-In-Law’s English Sausage Rolls for Dinner

I don’t think I had ever had a sausage roll before I met my husband. But when he and I started dating, a tin of about a dozen or so would arrive in the mail before each Christmas and more than half a dozen would quickly disappear because of a new (and now continued) obsession I had with these little masterpieces.

I have since had my mother-in-law scribe her original recipe for me and for my husband, who loves them, and for our children to have for the future. She and my father-in-law are originally from England, where they grew up eating these treats. I keep the recipe protected in a plastic sheet because traditions like these ought to be preserved. In fact, I adore these savory pastries and my mother-in-law so much that I included the recipe in a class cookbook at my son’s preschool to pass it on to other families that might enjoy them over the years as either appetizers, snacks or for a main course at dinnertime. But mostly, the recipe carries on and preserves a very special family tradition on my husband’s side of the family.

I even made them in a mini version for my son’s annual “Art Night” event and they were gobbled up by kids and adults alike.

And nothing could be simpler to make. The ingredients include:

-1 package of folded puff pastry dough
-1 pound of any type of sausage you like, casings removed or bought in bulk
-One beaten egg or melted butter

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Start by removing the puff pastry from the container and unrolling it lightly onto a floured surface. With a pizza cutter begin to cut 3 inch strips down the length of the dough. Pull about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the raw, loose sausage and roll into a small log shape to about 2 inches in length. Place the sausage log starting at the bottom of one of the strips of pastry and roll the dough around it. Cut with the pizza cutter where the pieces of dough meet, press ends together and place seam-side down onto greased baking sheet. Don’t worry about sealing the ends. Do this until you have used all of the sausage and dough.

Next, brush the top of the sausage rolls with either beaten egg or melted butter and place them into the oven for about 18 minutes or until they are golden brown and you see some fat being rendered. There you have it! We usually like to serve them with the hot, English dry mustard that you mix with water. So yummy and comforting. They make great after school snacks for kids, too!